Is your nonprofit worthy of a bequest?


Sometimes a bequest magically appears out of the blue. Phew, now you can fund that looming deficit.

Many times nonprofits with scarce resources are forced to make these kinds of decisions to keep the doors open.

This is a good indication that they are not in a position to grow and strategically advance their mission – the very thing that inspires ongoing major gifts and bequests.

Along those lines…

I recently had an unexpected lesson in major gifts fundraising that surprised and saddened me. In this case, it was about a bequest, namely mine.

My husband and I were in the final stages of completing our financial plan. Now it was time to identify our legacy gifts. This was supposed to be the fun part, especially for me. It represents my life’s work.

So there we sat tasked with coming up with a list. He tends to support larger groups like the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center. I go for the smaller community-based nonprofits.


We decided to come up with 2 lists and then we would negotiate.

I quickly realized that there were very few organizations on my list that I felt comfortable leaving a sizable amount of money to. Note – the size of the gift is relative.

How could that be? I fully expected to have a long list and struggle to narrow it down.

It shouldn’t be so hard. As I pondered this dilemma, I had an insight.

Ah Ha

The idea that this was the largest gift I would ever make was big stuff for me. It represented my deepest held values. It was my gift to the world that would be lasting – at least that was my hope.

I finally got it. I wasn’t thinking about the nonprofit, per se. I was thinking about myself.

I was on a mission to meet my own needs.

Now I’m clearer about what I’m looking for in the groups that I support. They don’t need a beautifully designed 10-page strategic plan to be worthy of my bequest.

They do need people running the ship who are clear about where they’re going and have the courage to keep learning and moving forward, one foot in front of the other.

Those are the people I’ll trust my money with. 


Major gifts and bequests can be game-changing for your nonprofit AND your donors.

Even relatively smaller legacy gifts can be used to sustain certain programs or facilities, add capacity, establish endowments, or launch major new initiatives.

Do you believe that money is holding you back from new initiatives?

Trust me, it’s not the money. It’s about finding and engaging the right donors.

Remember, your mission is their mission too. It’s your job to find these folks. They’re out there.

The quicker you get this, the more money you’ll raise.


She’s an example of someone in your midst that you don’t know and will never connect with directly.

Sherlyn is 90 and passionate about animal protection. She contributes to a long list of organizations and is trying to identify which ones she wants to leave in her will. Like me, she’s struggling.

She pays special attention to newsletters, annual reports and anything else sent through snail mail. Even invitations to events that she has no intention of attending. 

She notices the quality of your solicitation and thank you letters. Everything matters. 

Sherlyn has a big heart and is looking for a nonprofit that shares her values. It’s that simple.

There’s one thing for sure. Chances are high that you have donors right now just like Sherlyn. How can you help them fulfill their mission?

What steps can your nonprofit take to be worthy of a legacy gift?


Tricia Dell is a fundraising coach, facilitator, and strategist for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at and follow her on twitter @triciadell.

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